Feature Interview with Lincoln Roden December 2001
Linc Roden strongly supports classical maintenance and playing conditions, and seeks a return to the ‘standards of play’ the classical architects intended. He took up golf in 1944 at age 13 at Huntingdon Valley Country Club, Huntingdon Valley, Pa. 19006. He was: Regional Medalist, USGA Junior, 1948; Philadelphia Amateur Champ in 1949 and 1950; Eastern Intercollegiate Individual Champ in 1951, Runner Up in 1952. After Korea, he was the Regional Medalist and reached the 4th round of the US Amateur but soon afterwards, he gave up tournament golf and played almost no golf in 1970’s. In 1980’s and 1990’s, Linc took a major role in restoring HVCC’s great William Flynn course. He served on the USGA Green Section in 1983 and ’84. His book, Golf’s Golden Age 1945-1954, published in 1995, urges a return to the earlier course conditions, rules, and standards of play, including reduction in the distance of the ball.
1. What prompted you to write Golf’s Golden Age 1945-1954?
I felt compelled to write the book because the ‘standards of the game’ as William Flynn, the great golf course architect of the 1920’s and 1930’s, put it, and the level of challenge and the thrill or agony of response had deteriorated so much. I had a rare, almost unique, perspective from playing amateur golf at the highest level from 1949 to 1954, and then returning to the game in the 1980’s after playing little or no golf for 25 years. I wanted people to know how great it was, and could be again. At Huntingdon Valley CC I had the opportunity as Green Chairman in the early to mid 1980’s, with a mostly supportive membership, of restoring the existing A and B nines to the way they were designed by Flynn and to a large degree, to the way they were maintained in the late ’40’s and early ’50’s. Later on, in the ’80’s and ’90’s, I had the opportunity of playing a major role in restoring HVCC’s C nine, designed and built by William Flynn with the A and B nines in 1927. The C nine had been abandoned to go to seed in the 1930’s! By the early 1990’s, 60 years later, trees 2 feet in diameter and 6o feet high were growing out of the fairways and greens! The improvements in equipment and the changes in maintenance practices over the last 50 to 55 years have had a much greater impact on the standards of the game than is generally recognized. The challenge faced by top players today on the great classic courses is nothing like the architects intended or the early great players faced. I wrote the book also in hopes of influencing the USGA into taking the lead in reducing golf ball length and changing the recommended maintenance practices, so that the ‘standards of play’ and the challenge could be restored to earlier levels.
2. What kind of things did you do to restore the existing A and B nines at Huntingdon Valley?
The first steps were basic but easy to overlook:
- Over the years the greens had gotten smaller and rounder just from the daily shortening of the turning radius of the mowers. The earlier greens were etched in my memory. Skeptics were convinced by plugs showing underlying green soil and, in some cases, by photographs. Several greens had lost over 20 feet in the front!!
- The greens had become very slow. We were able to speed them up to 9 or 10 feet on the stimpmeter. What a difference! (Even faster since!)
- The bunkers had lost their shape and character, partly through neglect and excessive reliance on ‘sand pros’ for maintaining the bunkers. All the bunkers were reedged and resanded in-house quite economically (total cost of $12,000!). (Later on, Scott Anderson, our fine Superintendent, did a much more complete restoration with much hand finishing and reliance on old plans and photos.)
- The fairways were reseeded to bent. They had gone to poa from very heavy overwatering. The first year we had a stimpmeter reading of 45 inches on the fairways! They were mown so closely that some members complained that their ball sat too closely to the ground and there was no place to improve their lie!!!
- Those of Flynn’s back tees which had been closed were reopened.
- Certain strategic trees which had declined or died were replaced with new trees.
- The rough was maintained with three levels: a short first cut about four feet wide (one cut with the national); a second cut for most of the rough long enough that you could not normally hit a wood; and uncut ‘tiger’ country in some remote areas.
- Watering was reduced drastically. After the grow-in, we were down to only 3 to 4 million gallons per year! Fairways and greens became much firmer. The grasses became tolerant of much drier conditions. Roots reached deep. The fairway, rough, and even green grasses were allowed to go tan and dormant during dry periods. Watering was a last resort to keep turf alive.
- So that everyone was on the same wavelength, we worked out a written statement of playing condition objectives with Scott Anderson, our Superintendent, and posted it on the locker room bulletin board. (This has been continued and refined, with annual Board review, with great success. This practice is worth considering at all clubs.)
We went to hard and fast playing conditions where the player had to plan for considerable bounces and roll. No longer were we hitting our tee shots down the center of the ‘marsh’ (what we called the super soggy fairways). No longer could we hit long irons and woods into the ‘chocolate pudding’ greens and have the ball stop in two feet. And the very firm greens did not take footprints or ballmarks; they became much truer. The overall reaction was most favorable within and outside the club. Over time the members have chosen to cut the rough short and to eliminate much of the ‘tiger’ country. Though this reduced the challenge, it has increased the enjoyment for most of the members. The every-day challenge is still very formidable when the fairways and greens are hard, and the rough can be lengthened for tournaments.
3. You talk about changes in the ‘standards of play’. Tell us more about what you mean about changes due to maintenance.
When this course was built in 1927 and up until 1962 there was a rudimentary watering system. Outlets existed near each green and hoses were used to provide a bit of water. Jury rigs could be set up to water newly seeded areas. The whole course was hard and fast except after periods of heavy rain. Fairways and the rough turned light brown in the summer. Greens were very firm but not rock hard. The game was played with a lot of roll. To play at the highest levels it was necessary to work the ball, right to left, left to right, high shots and low shots, run shots and carry shots. On sloping fairways it was hard to keep the ball on the fairway. If the fairway sloped to the right, you would try to draw the ball into the hillside. A second shot from those hard, closely mown fairways could take a lot of spin if struck properly. If you were playing out of the rough you had to bounce and roll the ball onto the green because you could not spin the ball. Balls landing on the green would hold if well struck with the right trajectory and with spin, but otherwise would bounce over. Chips were extremely difficult on those hard and lightning-fast greens. With today’s overwatering on most courses, players don’t have to worry about the bounce and roll. Even on courses striving for the old standards, heavy rains can reduce the course to a soft bog with no bounce on the fairways or greens. The ultimate standards and the ultimate enjoyment of golf occur when the fairways and greens are really hard, and when only shots struck with the proper shape and maximum spin will stay in the fairways or stick on the greens!!! Those early greens had a lot of grain. No one verticut greens. Grain is very important to achieve these ideal conditions. I will address it in another question. May I remind you of a quote from Bob Jones in a letter he wrote to P.A. Ward-Thomas, Esq., dated October 31, 1961:
‘I cannot help being saddened by what you tell me of the changes in turf conditions at Lytham. I know I was shocked to observe the same changes at St. Andrews. If that sort of thing is happening to all British seaside golf, then, indeed, progress has been dearly bought.
‘When the Open was played at St. Anne’s a few years ago, it was obvious that something had happened to make it play much easier. I had thought at the time that this was no more than rain and an unaccustomed stillness. Apparently this was not so.
‘Although I did not feel this way in the beginning, I am happy now that I did not miss playing seaside golf when the greens were hard and unwatered and the fairways and putting surfaces like glass. Nothing resulting from man-made design can equal the testing qualities of such conditions.’ (Italics are Linc’s).
The modern pleasant over-watered fairways and greens result in an enjoyable experience for the mid and high handicappers, the majority of the memberships. But the better golfers can not experience the ultimate challenge unless the fairways and greens are hard and fast! One objective for the better golfers is to educate the other golfers on the joys of the greater challenge. With today’s equipment and soft course conditions, it is possible to score unbelievably well by hitting long, all-carry drives and all-carry short irons to the soft greens. That game is completely different from the one the architects knew in the 1920’s and earlier, and which the best golfers played.
4. There seems to be a disproportionately high number of first class golf courses in the greater Philadelphia area. Is there any accounting for this fact?
Philadelphia is blessed with a remarkable number of great courses. Some factors are:
- In the first 30 years of the twentieth century, Philadelphia was a leading, if not the leading, industrial and financial center. There were many well-to-do and wealthy people.
- The excellent Reading and Pennsylvania commuter rail lines went in. It was now feasible and desirable to live in the country and work in the city.
- Golf became very popular and fashionable in the teens and twenties. Many clubs were founded and golf courses built.
- The suburban countryside around Philadelphia is exceptionally beautiful, with rolling hills and valleys, many stream lines, extensive woodlands with huge trees.
- The climate is favorable for bentgrasses. Rainfall is generous. The summer nights are a bit warm for bent, but they are generally acceptable.
- Philadelphia was most fortunate to have William Flynn designing and building so many great courses in the area. And Donald Ross did good work on this great terrain. The quality standards were very high.
- With the many great courses a great many people took up the game.
- In the last 30 years other fine courses have been built farther out, taking advantage of the gorgeous terrain.
In sum, the wealth, the interest, the population, the great terrain, the climate and the best classic architects were all here.
5. What do you think was Flynn’s greatest strength as an architect?
Linc: When Flynn designed an 18 hole course, he designed it to require the full range of shot values. Every shot provided a challenge, and Flynn mixed the challenges to provide great variety during the round. During the course of the round Flynn challenged the good player to hit a very wide yet specific range of shots, his standards of play. His greatest and perhaps unique strength was to design 18 holes from the viewpoint of encompassing the full range of shot values for the good player, while providing an enjoyable experience for the less-skilled player. To quote Flynn:
‘Getting back to the average good course it does seem that from 6,200 to 6,600 yards should suffice for length.
‘Dividing this up into holes there would be say four short holes ranging from the mashie to the full wood shot.
‘One real three-shotter, not merely a hole somewhere over 500 yards.
‘Two drive and full wood shot holes, one with a big carry on the drive as the premium with an easy entrance to the green, the other with accuracy on the drive but with the premium on a big carry for the second shot.
‘One drive and high spoon shot, accuracy off tee and carry to the green.
‘One drive and full cleek shot to narrow entrance and slightly terraced green.
‘One drive and high midiron carry to green.
‘Two drive and full midiron run to green with narrow entrance.
‘One drive and high mashie iron carry to green.
‘One drive and mashie to narrow entrance.
‘One drive and mashie all carry to green.
‘One drive and mashie niblic to island green.
‘One drive and run up on narrow terraced green straight away.
‘One drive and runup, elbow or cape type, with premium on length of drive.
‘ The above list is not at all arbitrary but covers generally the possibilities in an eighteen hole layout.’
The above was written in 1927, while Huntingdon Valley was under construction. In the same articles Flynn notes that the US Open was played that year on a course of 7000 yards! It was Oakmont. He indicated championship courses would be over 6600 yards. In the writings I have seen, he did not provide any changes in shot values for a ‘championship’ course from those listed above. With the greens very hard and with those long shots coming into some of the greens, on a number of holes at HVCC Flynn provided an upsloping landing ramp at the front of the green so a well-hit ball could be held on the green. Examples are: A-5; A-6; A-8; A-9; B-10; B-12; B-16; B-17; B-18; C-1; C-4; C-7; C-8; C-9.
Flynn intended to develop holes of character and variety. The problems to be developed in order of importance are… ‘first-accuracy; second-carry; third– length, which includes carry and roll. The premium on accuracy should carry the greatest reward for that is the essence of any game.’ ‘Carry, while slightly less important than accuracy is important in that it promotes boldness.’ ‘In applying these problems or tests to the layout through the medium of bunkers the architect has a great opportunity to display versatility. On one hole he may have a big diagonal bunker off the tee where the player takes as much risk as he feels capable of carrying and is rewarded in his shot to the green commensurably with his first effort.’ ‘He may have a comparatively easy drive off another tee, and yet, if the ball strays slightly from the center of the fairway, his second to the green becomes increasingly hard.’ ‘By arranging the green bunkers in such a way as to invite play in from one side or the other he can also put a premium on placing the tee shot on the proper side of the fairway.’ ‘The problems may be diversified using one test off the tee on one hole, the same on the second shot of another hole; sometimes two of the same kind on the first and second shots of a hole; perhaps all tests, accuracy, carry, and length on another but always juggling so as not to get sameness on succeeding holes.’ ‘While bunkers are thought by many to be put in as penalizers they are primarily installed to present a problem or a mode of play.’ All these quotes from Flynn in the USGA Green Section Record of 1927 emphasize how he designed for shot values and variety.
6. Tell us your thoughts about how the changes in equipment have affected Flynn’s standards of play.
The game as it was played in the late 1920’s when Flynn was designing was radically different from the game we know today. Modern players do not face the challenges or the standards of play Flynn provided.
- I have already talked about the changes in maintenance. Flynn expected the fairways and greens to be hard. Drives would roll a long way. Only finely struck irons would stick on the greens.
- I had the chance to talk this over with Sarazen. He said, with some conviction, … ‘We hit the ball a long way.’ This was accomplished with a low driving draw on those hard fairways, so the carry was not so long, but the roll was considerable. I played many rounds with Duff McCullough, Runner-Up in the 1940 US Amateur, and he played for the roll all summer. He had a very straight-faced summer driver; in the spring and fall when the fairways were soft, he switched to a lofted driver for the carry. Playing with Sarazen just before the ’51 US Amateur at Saucon Valley, with the course under Mr. Grace’s (and the USGA’s) eye in apparently perfect condition, Sarazen suggested in the nicest way that the greens should be much firmer.
- Remember, in the 1920’s players were using wooden shafts!
- I do not have an accurate measure of how far the players hit various clubs in the 1920’s, but I do not think it was possible to achieve the clubhead speed of the present. And I don’t think the ball allowed so much carry and spin.
- The game was played much more on the ground with a lot of roll.
- In 1948 Hogan published Power Golf, before his accident and when he was swinging hard with his hook grip. Of course, steel shafts were in play. Ed Dudley, PGA President, called Hogan …’One of the longest hitters the game has ever known.’ Check out Hogan’s ‘regular’ distance:
- Driver 265One Iron 195 Three Iron 175 Five Iron 155 Seven Iron 135 Nine Iron 115 Compare these distances with today’s best players! A hole Flynn designed to play with a drive with carry and roll and a full fairway wood may now be played with a drive and short iron, both shots with almost no roll!
- In the 1940’s, the longest distance for a par 4 was 439 yards. The USGA then increased the distance to 449, 450, 469 and now even longer for some holes. Merion, Augusta, Huntingdon Valley and St. Andrews’ Old Course have all built back tees!
- Flynn talked about having to increase the length of courses to 7,500 and even 8,000 yards if the distance to be gotten with the ball continues to increase.
- If we were to design a course which required today’s best players to hit the shots which Flynn envisioned in 1927, we would probably be well over 8,000 yards if that hypothetical course was hard and dry! Take Flynn’s standards for a course quoted above and see how long you feel the course would have to be.
The biggest changes in the standard of play required come from the enormous increases in clubhead speed, distance, and the amount of spin, combined with much softer fairways and greens. Not to be overlooked is the effect on shotmaking requirements. Playing the long, all-carry shot, there is far less need to fade or draw the ball to keep it from bouncing off the well-watered sloping fairway or green. Changes in shotmaking requirements stemming from the modern equipment and maintenance practices, using Huntingdon Valley holes as examples, are:
1. With almost all of HVCC’s fairways sloping and firm, it was necessary to fade or draw the tee shot to stay in the fairway. On HVCC’s sharply right-to-left sloping first hole a draw on the hard ground would roll into the downhill fairway bunker. (About 30 years ago someone built up the upper side of the bunker so that most of those shots now stop in the rough.) In ’27 a good tee shot would leave a mashie or mashie niblick. Today’s longer tee shot passes the bunker and leaves only a short pitch.
2. On HVCC’s long second par 4, the green is cut into a right to left hillside. When the green is hard Flynn required the player to hit a long soft high shot or a fade, with a spoon or mid-iron. A draw or hook coming into that green would roll off the down-sloping left and back of the green. Today players hit 7 irons in, with little risk of bouncing off the back left.
3. The same problem existed on HVCC’s third, a full wood shot redan-type par 3 in Flynn’s day. The fade into the hillside would keep the ball on the sloping green. A draw or hook coming into that green in the summer would roll across the green and down into a deep bunker or grassy slope. (Balls rolling off the low sides of Flynn’s 2nd, 3rd, and 16th at HVCC drove the Green Committee of the late 1940’s to raise the low sides of those greens! The slope to the low side was so steep, and the downgrain putts were so fast that players frequently putted off all three of these greens! So far, only the16th has been restored, but HVCC’s ‘Master Plan’ calls for both 2 and 3 to be restored.) Today top players play long irons into the 3rd green.
4. On HVCC’s 4th, a drive and runup to a narrow and downhill-terraced green, Flynn demanded a fade around the encroaching right-hand forest off the tee if you wished to have the straight-in shot. A draw would run into the fairway bunkers. A lay-up off the tee makes the second shot across the bunkers much more difficult. (I regret to report that the century oak which forced the fade off the tee was taken down a few years ago, by ‘mistake’.)
5. HVCC’s 8th played as a drive and mid-iron, cleek or spoon. The drive had to be faded to stay in the sharply sloping right-to-left fairway. The green provided a sloping landing area for the long approach. (Once again I must report that the overhanging oak limbs which forced the left-to-right tee shot were removed a few years ago. One begins to think there were a number of hookers on the Green Committee!?) Today the hole plays as a drive and short iron, and the problem of a downhill lie for a long second to an uphill green is reduced or eliminated.
6. HVCC’s 9th was a long downhill 435 yard par 4 to an uphill green. Flynn provided a steeply sloping green to accept those long second shots hit off a downhill lie. Today the second is with a short iron.
7. HVCC’s 10th (B-1) was a 400+ par 4 with a long carry from a high tee over a stream which was then tight on the right, plus a mid-iron or spoon to an elevated three level green which angled short left to long right, with very deep bunkers in the front and to the short right. Flynn made you hit an accurate tee shot and then a long second from an uphill lie, coming in left-to-right. Any shot coming in right-to-left was either short in the deep bunker or bounced over with a difficult downhill recovery. Few holes are as pretty, and few play so hard. (The stream which was tight on the right was rerouted in the ’40’s to provide more room for an errant tee shot. The Master plan calls for restoration of the original routing.) Today’s fine players reach the green with middle to shorter irons.
8. HVCC’s 12th (B-3) was a 400+ yard par 4. When building the course, Flynn rechanneled the stream so it ran in a straight line from short left to long right. The carry over the short left area was only 190, but if you were even a few yards left you were in the woods. The carry over the stream on the right edge of the fairway was 248, a very long way in those days. In the center the carry was 225, and the landing area between the stream and the woods was 25 yards. You could also play short up a narrow fairway strip up the right side; if you succeeded you could reach the green with a long fairway wood running into a narrow entrance. This green was a bit uphill with a narrow upsloping entrance falling away to a right sloping back half. Today’s players have no trouble driving over the stream, except on the extreme right. And then they have only 135 yards left. (In the 1960’s one writer picked this hole as the greatest 12th hole in Philadelphia. HVCC’s 2nd and 18th were similarly honored recently, and HVCC’s 18th ranks in golf’s top 500 greatest holes in the world, according to one golf magazine’s selections! Of course, these writers have never played HVCC’s restored C-9, which probably ranks as Flynn’s most difficult, longest, and, perhaps, greatest!)
The above are only a few of the examples of the great shot challenges Flynn presented.
7. Tell us a little bit about HVCC’s C course.
I have to start with perspective.
- HVCC was founded in 1896 or 1897 by some of the most successful people in the US if not the world. They wanted their club to be the best. In the early 1900’s HVCC’s course was one of the longest in the US. HVCC valued golf highly. They won virtually all the Philadelphia Men’s and team championships, and the ladies did very well with two USGA US Amateur Runner-Ups. By the 1910’s HVCC’s old course was over 6300 yards! (Think about that.) But the advent of the auto made the course obsolete; too many holes played across roads.
- HVCC had to build a new course. They got great land! They hired the best architect, William Flynn. They determined to borrow all the money they needed to do this right (Almost later causing bankruptcy and dissolution of the club!)
- Because of HVCC’s great heritage I am sure they charged Flynn to build a true championship course. By his writings that year, that meant a course over 6600 yards, and that is what he did at HVCC.
- From listening to the older members, I believe Flynn built the A nine as a difficult nine, the B nine as a very difficult nine, and the C nine as the hardest championship nine he had ever built! (When the club was in extreme financial difficulties during the depression, the members chose to close down the C nine; I think they felt it was just too hard.)
- Duff McCullough, a great champion of the 1930’s, told me that in the late 1920’s and the early 1930’s, the championships were usually played on the B and C nines. The good players did not want to play the A nine, it was too easy!!! Duff argued that the A nine should be closed, not the C nine, but he was overruled.
So, from these stories, and from walking the holes in the forest, we knew we had a great C nine under the undergrowth of 60 years. Luckily, and through hard work, the land had been saved twice from townhouses and cluster houses, as well as from new sewer lines. I found the original Flynn drawings of all 27 holes in Gordon’s barn! John Bowen, HVCC’s historian, discovered aerial photographs of HVCC’s entire course from the 1920’s and 1930’s in the Hagley Museum near Wilmington! It was clear the C nine was one of the great nines in all of classic golf. The membership supported the effort to obtain the permits. This finally took 7 years because of two remarkable botanical sites on the property, including one which may have been visited by John Bartram, the great colonial botanist. C-9 Terrain and Water The C nine was laid out over beautiful terrain, with rolling slopes, mature forest, many stream crossings and a large lake, originally an 1850 mill pond. Water hazards are not so evident on the Scottish courses or on many early US courses. Flynn used water extensively to challenge the golfer. He may have been one of the earliest architects to make extensive use of water. Examples on HVCC’s C course are:
- On C-1, a topped shot will find a stream. On the second a stream cuts across short of the green (a carry requirement).
- On C-2, a topped tee shot will find the stream. A stream runs down the left side, and then crosses the dog leg. The golfer must draw the ball as close to the stream as possible if he is to reach the very distant green with his second. (An accuracy requirement.)
- On C-4, a 212 yard par 3, Flynn restored the mill lake. A poorly hit shot would not carry the lake. A shot which just missed the green to the right would roll down into the lake!
- On C-6, a 191 yard par 3, the green was just over a stream, and the stream extended along the right side of the green, so a faded shot would be wet. (Both an accuracy and carry requirement.)
- On C-7, a long par 4, a missed tee shot could find a short stream. On the long second, anything to the right would find the lake.
- On C-9, a long par 4 from a high tee, the tee shot must carry 210 to clear the stream, and a long miss to the left or right would not leave a shot for the green. (Both an accuracy and carry requirement.)
On HVCC’s B nine, water is a major factor on 6 holes, requiring carry and accuracy. HVCC’s 13th, B-4, is a 162 yard par 3 over a pond which Flynn created by damming the stream. Augusta’s 16th is very similar as a mirror image of this hole, although HVCC’s green is not so severe. This is an early example of creating a lake for a golf hole. Flynn is among the leaders in the use of water, if not the earliest innovator. C-9 Greens The C-9 greens are large, larger than on the other two nines, and larger than I can recall on other Flynn courses, though not nearly as large as those on the Old Course. The C-9 is long, and plays even longer, but that does not seem to account for the extra size. The C-9 greens include an above average amount of slope, more than the 3 % he talks about in his writings. When the grain is present and they are hard and fast, they are unusually hard to putt and to chip to. Perhaps this is another element of challenge Flynn built into his (championship) C nine. To do our best to restore Flynn’s C course greens we had Ed Conner of Golf Forms shoot the greens and green complexes with his laser transit in their untouched condition in the forest before the ground was disturbed. In rebuilding these C9 greens we removed and stockpiled the old original green soil, shaped and staked the green contours at the subsoil level, and then mixed new green soil with the old, and then contoured the greens. Note these are ‘push-up greens’, not the newer perched water tables. They are built similarly to the original soil and organic matter greens, and they have an unusually high soil content by today’s standard. All 27 greens are similar and should play similarly. When dry they play much harder than the new-type greens with a high sand content. The C9 soil greens also hold much more deep moisture than the high sand content modern greens. Thus the roots are deeper and the surfaces can be maintained dryer than the new design greens. C-9 Bunkers Flynn placed only 20 bunkers on the C course, much less than usual. This compares to 42 on HVCC’s B nine. In trying to surmise the purpose he had in mind I suggest:
- The C-one fairway bunker on the right is to direct the player to favor the left side. This is important because the fairway over the crest in the landing area slopes rather sharply to the right.
- The two bunkers below the left side of the C2 green direct the player to run the long second shot into the uphill green from the right.
- The 5 bunker cluster on the center and left of the second shot landing area on C3 challenges the golfer on carry and accuracy if he is to have the best approach angle. (This grouping appears to be the predecessor to the very similar cluster on the 16th at Shinnecock.) The bunker on the right front of the green makes the downhill approach very difficult if the player has bailed out to the right on his second.
- The impressive bunkers around C-5 force the player to play an accurate second with carry.
- The two big diagonal fairway bunkers on C-8 challenge the player to bite off as much as he can chew to the right to gain the extra roll and shorter shot to the green. Or he can bail to the left with a very long second. The big left greenside bunker directs the player to bounce the ball in from the right to this right-to-left sloping green.
- The two deep bunkers on either side of C-9 challenge the player to hit a long uphill second with accuracy and distance including roll.
8. What club would a scratch golfer have played into each green on the C course at Huntingdon Valley when it opened in 1928, and what club would a scratch golfer play into each of the greens today?
I will try to address this question three ways. For the 1928 golfer I will think in terms of Flynn’s standard of play. I will use Hogan’s regular distances from his book, Power Golf, published in 1948, before his accident, and while he was still using the strong hook grip. For today’s golfer I will use Jim Sullivan’s play in the 1999 Lynnewood Hall tournament, HVCC’s premier amateur tournament. Jim won the Philadelphia Amateur, and has turned pro. He is a long hitter, but not the longest. I will think of the C course playing hard and dry in 1928 and 1948, and softer, but still firm in 1999. For distances I will use the Flynn back tees, not the longer tees we added on several holes to compensate for today’s distances. (Note that Flynn designed two sets of tees, and he suggested that the player use whichever he found most enjoyable. This is a departure from the earlier Scottish expectation that everyone play a hole from the same tee.) I will try to adjust the clubs used for changes in terrain. The yardages shown below are from Flynn’s tees with recent measurements by laser. HVCC had to change C6 and C7 because of today’s driving range. The distances and clubs for those two holes below are based on the original design. Hole 1928 Hogan 1948 Sullivan 1999 C1. 401 Drive, 3 Iron Drive, 7 Iron 3 Iron, 8 Iron C2. 420 Drive, Full Wood 3 Wood, 4 Wood 3 Iron, 4 Iron C3. 557 Drive, 3 Wood, Pitch Drive, 3 Wood Drive, 5 Iron C4. 213 Full Wood 4 Wood 3 Iron C5. 381 Drive, 5 Iron Drive, 8 Iron 3 Iron, 8 Iron C6. 191 High Spoon 3 Iron 6 Iron C7. 435 Drive, Cleek Drive, 4 Iron Drive, 8 Iron C8. 412 Drive, Wood Drive, 6 Iron Drive, 9 Iron C9. 431 Drive, Full Wood Drive, 4 Iron Drive, 7 Iron C Nine 3441 yards, Par 35; (From new back tees 3618 yards) The above table involves a lot of subjective judgements, but it is clear that the challenges and standard of play Flynn had intended have been severely compromised. It should be possible to design a golf ball which would restore the challenge Flynn intended for the scratch player. It seems that the importance of ball-striking has been greatly reduced, and the relative importance of putting has been emphasized. Significance of Rough Flynn called for rough of sheep’s fescue and recleaned red top. He wanted thin but scraggly rough which made it easy to find the ball, but which seldom provided a good lie. Think how much easier it is for today’s long hitter to hit a short iron out of the rough as compared to Flynn’s scratch player who had to hit a long iron or wood to the green. This is just another perspective on how the standards of play have changed.
9. You have been a long time supporter that grain should be encouraged. What are such benefits?
I urge Green Committees to maintain their courses as classic courses were maintained before the advent of (over)watering systems. To provide the challenge the architects expected, and to provide the golfer with golf at the highest level, courses should be firm and dry. Greens should be hard and dry, and they should have grainy bentgrass. Grain is important for these reasons:
- The classic architects expected grainy greens. Grain requires the golfer to read slope, speed, and grain. This is part of the traditional skill requirements for the golfer, a standard of play. On a downgrain putt or chip, the ball will roll a lot further than on a grainless green. The reverse is true into the grain. And grain accentuates the break on crossgrain putts. And reading and stroking chips and putts becomes a lot more challenging and fun.
- Grainy grass permits the greens to be maintained drier, firmer and faster than vertical grass. This is true because the horizontal grass blades of grainy bent have much more leaf area exposed to sunlight per grass plant. The result is many fewer but much stronger grass plants per square inch. These larger, stronger, grainy grass plants can send down much deeper roots, which permits them to be maintained much drier. If the grainy bent is closely mown, the flat dry grass blades of grainy bent provide less friction and are faster than heavily groomed and verticut greens or closely mown vertical green grasses.
- With the green surfaces dry, firm, and covered with horizontal leaves of bentgrass, pitchmarks are minimized, footprints are minimized, and the green surfaces are much truer. In Dave Pelz’s terms, for instance, the ‘lumpy doughnut’ around the hole will be greatly reduced. Hard, dry, grainy bentgrass greens maximize the skill challenges while reducing the chance factor from soft and therefore bumpy greens. Heavily groomed and verticut greens and poa greens cannot be maintained so dry on the surface, and they are inevitably less true over a period of time.
- With grainy bentgrass growing unusually deep roots, and with the green maintained with minimal water, the surface will be quite dry most of the time. This hinders or prevents the germination of poa. Any poa which does appear can not compete well with the bent under such dry conditions. Greens which contain a lot of poa must be maintained with a lot of water to keep the poa alive. Inevitably they will be soft on the surface and will take damage from ballmarks and footprints. I think it is impossible to keep poa greens dry enough to meet the hard and dry standard through the Philadelphia summer without losing a lot of the poa. If you have to ‘syringe’ the greens during the day the surface will be too soft.
- Grain helps the club to maintain very firm, dry, and fast greens for more of the year. On these greens spin becomes much more important; balls without spin will not stop. By comparison, spin may not even be needed on soft greens, and the ‘standard of play’ has been reduced again.
It may not be possible to maintain northern greens which play at the highest and best standards through much of the year without grainy bentgrass. Further thoughts on grain are:
- If you wish to eliminate grain as part of golf’s challenge, why not also eliminate slope? Make all greens flat. In the 1960’s one of our Green Chairmen eliminated the Flynn designed slopes on HVCC’s practice putting green and made the whole green dead flat! (Half the green has been rebuilt; the other half has settled to provide subtle slopes.)
- If you wish to eliminate all putting challenges, why not make all greens funnel-shaped with the hole at the bottom?
- If you wish to eliminate the risk the ball will bounce out of the funnel, keep the surface chocolate pudding soft.
The bentgrass mixture we used on the C course for the restoration was: 31% Penncross; 31% Penneagle; 31% Cato; and 8% South Shore (L93). This mixture was selected by Scott Anderson after consultation with the USGA and others to come close to Flynn’s grass types. The C-9 greens met all of our objectives for firmness, grain, deep roots, trueness, and very little poa has crept in. Over the years the greens on some classic courses were maintained with too much water. Poa became well established, and some bent survived. The characteristics of these two grasses are quite different. To reach ‘tournament’ speed on such greens, clubs remove as much grass as possible, groom, verticut, and roll. They get great results for the event except there is only minimal and spotty grain, but then the club must keep the greens damp in the summer to keep the poa and the damaged bent grass plants alive. The softer greens are less true, and the standard of play has been reduced. The greens can be dried out temporarily for the next event if there is no rain. To increase the bent population the club should:
- Mow the greens as closely as possible without any verticutting or grooming.
- Encourage the bent plants to maximize their leaf area.
- Aerate to promote deep roots.
- Water infrequently but in larger increments.
- Keep the upper levels of the green soil as dry as possible to stress the poa, to reduce poa germination, and to encourage the bent roots to reach deep.
10. It is clear you like firm or hard greens with a lot of grain. Can you give us some guidance on what you mean as firm or hard and the advantages of such greens.
It is difficult to get a common understanding of what is meant by firm or hard greens. Some concepts are:
- Remember Bob Jones’ comment quoted earlier about ‘unwatered’ greens.
- On hard greens there should be no ballmarks that require repair. There will be skidmarks or bruised grass blades.
- On hard greens it is difficult to cut a new hole. A sledge may be required.
- On hard greens the edge of the hole will be very firm. It will be hard to make an impression on the edge or to damage the edge.
- On hard greens a ball dropped from shoulder height will bounce about 4 or 5 inches. (Also note the distinctive sound. Like a piece of wood?)
- On hard greens it is difficult to push a tee one inch into the green.
- You can feel the hardness as you walk across the green.
- Late in the day when the sun is low and casting shadows after a lot of play, a really firm green will not show footprints or irregularities and a ball will roll true, not in a wobbly or bumpy pattern.
- On hard greens a ball hit with spin will check up, but a ball from the rough will bound over.
Think about this issue each time you play. You will be able to develop your own standards! Remember, if it rains a lot, all greens will be soft and mushy, no matter what the maintenance regimen.
11. What was Flynn’s view of trees on the course?
The early Scottish architects did not seem to place much value on trees. I recall no trees on Royal Dornoch, but there were more whins or gorse than you would ever want to see. A ball in the whins is either lost or unplayable, sort of like a water hazard. Flynn was an American architect. He learned in the Philadelphia area with all its streams, hills and great mature trees. He departed from the Scottish school on water as I mentioned. He also departed as regards trees, which he thought to be of great value on the courses. Rolling Green, HVCC, Philmont North, and Manufacturers are all examples of Flynn’s use of trees, and great mature trees at that. Shinnecock is an aberration, where he was probably asked to improve the original layout with no trees on the property, but with wind and soil characteristics of linksland. Here is what Flynn said about trees:
‘The pleasantest type of course is one where the holes are segregated, that is where the hole you happen to be playing is well apart from the others. In order to have this kind of course it is necessary to secure property that is already wooded or to do considerable planting of trees.’ (Italics are Linc’s.)
‘ The old idea was to have golf courses as free from trees as possible. This notion, no doubt, was imported from Scotland because when golf was first taken up in the United States we knew very little about the game and modeled our courses on those of the Scots which were, for the most part, built along the seashore where there were no trees.
‘It is impossible to conceive that the ‘Canny Scots’ would have denuded their courses of trees if there had been any there originally. As a race they are entirely too thrifty for any such waste as that.
‘Today the old ideas have been discarded and the prevailing belief is that trees, most emphatically, have a fixed place on a golf course. This is true for many reasons:
First-Because there are few, if any, sites available that are devoid of trees and it is a costly operation to cut them down and remove them.
Second-Trees add beauty to a course forming picturesque backgrounds and delightful vistas.
Third-Their shade is most refreshing on a hot summer day.
Fourth-They are of great practical value in segregating various holes.’
‘It might also be that moving a tee slightly to the right or left precludes the necessity of taking out some beautiful tree. This also applies to green sites. Sometimes a slight change in the alignment of the hole permits the architect to keep a specimen tree or trees which may also act as a key turning point in the hole.’
Source: Flynn articles in USGA Green Section Record, 1927. At HVCC Flynn saved many mature trees and woodlands, and, on holes that were on open land, the early aerial photos show little trees planted to divide the holes. On some Donald Ross courses the recent trend has been to cut down many trees to restore the course the way Ross intended. On Flynn’s courses, it would be more appropriate to plant more trees in line with his philosophy. Some examples of the way Flynn used trees are:
- Trees as chutes off the tee. At HVCC: A-4, A-8. Rolling Green: number 15 has one of the tightest and longest chutes anywhere. Philmont North: tight chutes on 1, 2, 6, 10, 18. Number 6 plays over a hill to a blind fairway; the trees almost look like they are overlapping. Manufacturers: number 4 and number 9. Remember Flynn’s work at Merion: think of 10 and 12 from the back tees, and 18.
- Big trees as fairway lanes. At HVCC: number A-2, A-8, C-9. At Philmont North: 1, 2, 9, 10, 18. At Manufacturers: 5, 7, 10, 15. At Rolling Green: 7, 9, 12, 13, 15, 18.
- Big trees like a wall on one side. At HVCC: A-4, A-6, A-7, B-2, B-3, B-7, B-8, B-9, C-1. At Rolling Green: 1, 17.
- Big trees around the green. At HVCC: A-1, A-2 (3 century oaks on right; 2 killed by gypsy moths.), A-6, A-7, B-2, C-1, C-4, C-9. At Rolling Green: !4, 16, 18. At Philmont North: 1, 2, 9, 10.
- Big trees at turning points. At HVCC: A-7, B-2, B-9, C-5. At Manufacturers: 2, 7, 10. At Rolling Green: 5, 12, 17, 18. At Philmont North: 1, 2, 9, 13.
The abundance of trees, their beauty, and their significance to the golfer distinguish Flynn from some earlier architects. They help to make his courses both beautiful and challenging.
12. How did Flynn and Toomey work together?
I have no knowledge or insight on this point. It seems that Flynn was very much the golf course architect. My guess is that Toomey was probably strong on the business and construction work sides.
13. What do you think Flynn would have thought about the changes made at HVCC by Joe Kirkwood and others in the late 1940’s?
Joe Kirkwood, the great trickshot golfer and expert golfer, was pro at HVCC from the late 1930’s to about 1950. He converted 14 (B-5) from a long but uninteresting par 4 into a much better hole with a most attractive green complex. This permitted 15 to be made into a good 550 yard par 5, from one that was really no more than a very short par 5. I think Flynn would have applauded these changes, especially with the greater distances being achieved even then. At the Green Committee’s behest, Joe oversaw raising of the low sides of holes 2, 3, and 16. This made it much easier to keep shots on those greens, and greatly reduced the challenge Flynn built into these holes. I think he would have been severely disappointed. Note HVCC’s ‘Master Plan’ calls for all three greens to be restored; 16 already has been.
On HVCC’s 10th the Green Committee moved the stream in the right landing area to the right to make the tee shot easier. As originally designed, the stream paralleled the landing area flowing towards the tee, and then crossed the fairway. Long tee shots which were pushed a bit would find the parallel stream even though they were long enough to carry the stream where it crosses the fairway. I think Flynn would have been very saddened by this change. This change is also to be restored in HVCC’s ‘Master Plan’. I think Flynn would have wondered why HVCC would be reducing the challenges in his design when they had asked him to design a championship course.
14. How do you think Merion has stood the test of time?
Merion is the most hallowed ground in American golf. I stand on what I said in my book. Merion is too short for today’s best players, but they have added some back tees. If the greens could be made as hard and fast as they were in 1950, Merion would give everyone fits. If the greens were less than hard, the scores would be pretty low.
15. With the ball flying so far, how can we restore the standards the great architects intended without adding too much extra yardage to the great old courses?
It is tragic that the powers that be have allowed the great distance increases which make so many of our great courses obsolete and which so reduce the ‘standard of play’ the architects intended. The only practical approach, it seems to me, is to develop a golf ball which travels about as far as Hogan’s ’48 distances when hit by the very best players with today’s equipment. This can best be done under the auspices of the USGA, but many have suggested this idea and the USGA has not moved. Perhaps one of the golf ball manufacturers will take the initiative. Our ‘Classic’ ball would have to have reduced distance and perhaps some limit on spin rates or dimple patterns. Perhaps the ball should have the old widely used dimple pattern. I have heard that Nicklaus, Palmer, and Ron Prichard, the restoration architect, have all expressed such views to the USGA, as have I. All I can suggest is that everyone interested should express their opinion to the USGA. If anyone has contacts with the ball manufacturers, perhaps they can interest the companies.
Ran, I fear this interview has exceeded the time limit for a four hour round. Thank you for the chance to express some thoughts and, I hope, influence a few people on the importance of reducing the length of the ball and returning to classical firm and dry maintenance practices. Let’s restore the old standards of play and the challenges they represented. The game may be harder, but it will be much more fun! Linc